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Glenda Jackson Shows Firepower In 'Phedre'

January 05, 1985|DAN SULLIVAN | Times Theater Critic

What you love about British actors is their stamina. Take Glenda Jackson. Having just played Nina in O'Neill's five-hour "Strange Interlude," she might seem eligible for a vacation. Instead she's gone straight into a production of Racine's "Phedre" at the Old Vic.

The great Phedres have been French--Rachel, Bernhardt--and those names came up in the reviews, which were largely admiring. Some of Jackson's critics wanted more majesty, but everybody was impressed by her sheer firepower.

Benedict Nightingale in the New Statesman was intrigued that Jackson didn't go in for nobility, but played Racine's feverish queen as if to say that "being skewered in the guts by Cupid is an ugly, bitter, humiliating business."

The Guardian's Michael Billington praised Jackson's "emotional candor . . . This is the real stuff of tragedy, the cry of a cornered human soul." The Daily Telegraph's John Barber: "Wonderfully impressive . . . The actress finds a voice as jagged and hoarse as her torment." The Financial Times Michael Coveney: "A tragic performance on the grand scale . . . In some ways this is the Cleopatra she never gave."

Other critics, like City Limits' Carole Woddis, found Jackson and the production too declamatory. (One wonders what they would have thought of Bernhardt.) The Spectator's Christopher Edwards, on the other hand, found the approach too modern:

"Jackson's Phedre is straight out of Ibsen, a bourgeois heroine whose emotional power never reaches beyond the intensity of melodrama. At times I could hear . . . the voice of a slightly tipsy, middle-aged divorcee lamenting her midlife crisis . . ."

But the intensity, all agreed, was there. And there was praise for the production, staged by Philip Prowse, director of the Glasgow Citizens Company--"as thunderously dramatic a piece of stagecraft as you are likely to see outside of Bayreuth," according to the Spectator's Edwards.

It's reported that Jackson is bringing "Strange Interlude" to Broadway. Perhaps this "Phedre" should come instead. And after that, to the Ahmanson.

Baseball plays are all the thing these days. In Los Angeles there's "Bleacher Bums" and "Bullpen." In New York there's "Diamonds," a new Off Broadway revue staged by Hal Prince.

It's a collage of bits and songs about the national pastime, composed by people like John Weidman (who wrote the book for "Pacific Overtures") and Comden and Green. It also includes Abbott and Costello's famous "Who's on first?" routine.

Is it a hit ? Will it have a run ? Frank Rich of the New York Times didn't particularly think so. Clive Barnes of the New York Post definitely thought not: "A fiasco of the smallest, dullest kind. Say it ain't so, Hal."

But the Daily News' Doug Watt thought the show had some cute ideas, such as its Kabuki-style rendering of "Casey at the Bat." His final verdict: "Call 'Diamonds' a Little League homer and let it go at that."

One-for-three isn't bad in most leagues, but may not be enough in the Big Apple.

Houston's Chocolate Bayou Theater Company is looking for three unproduced scripts for its third annual Preston Jones New Play Symposium in July. Winners are brought to Houston to work with actors and dramaturgs on staged readings of their plays. Deadline is March 15. Write to: John R. Pearson, Symposium Coordinator, P.O. Box 270363, Houston, Texas 77277.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK. George Bernard Shaw, quoted by Aubrey Mennen in the January Playbill: "Every good playwright wants to play the best part in anything he writes."

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